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The Merry Shelley: Buffalo’s Literary-themed Romantic Horror Bar

Buffalo loves its celebrations and festivals, but if there is a time of year that the place is rocking, it’s during the Halloween season. There’s something about the darker days, the blowing winds, and bright crisp moon that gets people talking about ghosts, goblins, and monsters.

Actually, there are people who celebrate the spirit of ‘the darker days’ throughout the year. For those people, a new ‘literary-themed romantic horror bar’ called The Merry Shelley has opened on Hertel. 

Inspired by a Gothic Horror novel written by an early feminist 200 years ago, the Merry Shelley welcomes the darklings, the drears, the weird, the punks, our fellow queers, the nerds, the readers, the strange and everything in that range. Escape from the modern humdrum into a world of shoegaze, darkwave, doom metal, and everything goth. We believe in science, love, community, exploration, and experimentation. Here we embrace the night. Carpe Noctem!

As for the food and drink offerings, patrons can expect to find ‘the best, weirdest, oddest, and most frightful variants’ of beer and ales, including Krampus ales (strong, dark, evil beers – the Orkney Skull Splitter for example), wines (the heart of the operation – look for the Bogle Phantom Red), meat and vegan charcuterie boards such as The Alphonse Frankenstein Vegan Charcuterie Board and The Victor Frankenstein Meat Board, samosas by India Gate, and kombucha by Barrel + Brine.

While not all of the drink and food is based on Goth and horror themes, there is plenty that fits the bill. And as much as the menu will change with the seasons, fans of the creepy-monster genre can always count on a killer creative menu that will offer up plenty of thrills and chills.

When I asked owners Karma Smallback and Cedric Justice how they came to open The Merry Shelley, they told me that a bottle of mezcal was involved – Peloton de la Muerte (aka Death Squad) to be exact.

“So it was over a couple of shots of mezcal?” I asked.

“No, the whole bottle!” they answered. 

The mezcal incident took place in Portland, Oregon, where they were living at the time. Karma, who is originally from Buffalo, was discussing her home town with Cedric, upon which time he proclaimed, “I would move to Buffalo.”

“I told him that I would remember that and remind him the next day,” said Karma. “And I did.”

The next thing they knew they were making trips to Buffalo, to see what it was all about. Unexpectedly, they found that people were very accepting  and open here… and not as “judgey” as they were in Portland. “No one looked at us sideways,” said Karma. “I was surprised at how friendly everyone was,” Cedric agreed. “Buffalo is the Portland that I originally moved to – the gritty industrial town where everyone plays in a band and works in a coffee shop, and can afford to live comfortably… with a burgeoning brewing scene, art, architecture, and graveyards. I’ve never lived on the East Coast, but I always said that I would never live in a place where water wasn’t to the west of me. And in Buffalo there’s Lake Erie to the west, where you can watch the sunset over the water. There’s also a slack in the housing market, where the values will remain low for a while. Aside from real estate, I needed to know that there was a good tailor, and Asian markets. These were big deals for me.”

The couple knew that they were destined to move here when Cedric started having memories of Buffalo when he was back in Portland. “It was like a premonition of being part of a space,” he said. “At the time, I was a business consultant, working for a firm out of Boston. I needed an international airport, which Buffalo had. I ended up losing that job, but I got another day job and it allowed me to work remotely, thus paving the way to move to Buffalo. When I was still working in Portland, we began to build up a business plan, by working with a restaurant consultant (also in Portland). I had wanted to open a bar since I was 23. My piercer opened up Lovecraft – a Goth bar in Portland. I didn’t want to do the same thing, so I began to do my own research.”

“We wanted a bar that we could hang out in,” agreed Karma, who had been living in Portland for 15 years. “We ended up buying the building (formerly Joey’s) and reinventing the space. It didn’t need a lot of work; we just needed to change it to our aesthetic. It’s a base-level literary bar, inspired by Mary Shelley, the Goth mother, feminist hero. Eventually we would love to start doing book clubs and readings. We have two coffin-shaped book shelves… instead of televisions. We want it to be a shared space for like-minded people – for a community that has sort of been forgotten about, or for anyone that appreciates this sort of thing. Goth ebbs and flows… there used to be a scene here in Buffalo, and other places – where do the elder Goths go, now that they’ve had kids?”

While Goths are more than welcome at The Merry Shelley, so is everyone else. Karma and Cedric told me that it’s a place to go to read a book and decompress – a place that doesn’t serve liquor but does serve up “working class wines” and “great crazy beers.”

Karma and Cedric came to Buffalo to reinvent their lives, buy some affordable real estate (they also live in the building), and build out their dream environment on a street that they have fallen in love with. “When we walked into Revolution Gallery, we thought it was great,” they said. “And we’re big fans of India Gate – it’s where we get our fresh $3 vegan samosas that we serve (Cedric is a cheese nerd – it’s all about the beer and the cheese). There are plenty of places to grab a really fine wine, or a cocktail… but that’s not us. We’re an affordable down-to-earth, female forward, Goth bar that hopes to capture some regulars who like what we’re doing.”

The Merry Shelley | 1122 Hertel Avenue | Buffalo, NY 14216 | (716) 370-1215 | Facebook

Open Saturdays (to start) | Order at the bar | Limited take-out | Reservations or walk-ins | Limited seating

Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside, Buffalo Porchfest, and Paint vs. Paint. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market on Elmwood. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at Statler City, the Hertel Alley Street Art Festival, and The Flutterby Festival.

Contact Newell Nussbaumer |

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